Sunday, February 04, 2007

Deacons help fill clergy gap

Some more interesting tidbits on the priest shortage and the rise of the permanent married diaconate from today's The Oregonian :

The Catholic Church in Oregon and nationwide is quietly transforming its clergy from a centuries-old tradition of celibate priests to a ministry that includes married men with children and secular careers.

As the number of U.S. priests declines, church ranks are swelling with permanent deacons, a recently revived class of ordained ministers who can baptize, witness marriages, lead funeral services and assist with many other functions central to church life.

By 2010, the number of permanent deacons in the United States is projected to exceed the number of priests actively working in parishes, said Joseph Claude Harris, a Seattle independent research analyst who has spent years tracking demographic trends in the Roman Catholic Church. The projection does not include sick, retired or otherwise inactive priests or those who belong to religious orders such as the Jesuits. Combined, those categories account for more than half of U.S. priests.

"There's a whole revolution going on in the way the church is being staffed," Harris said.

Nationwide, priests retire at double the rate of new ordinations, even as the Catholic population continues to grow.

[Rev. Richard Huneger, a priest who oversees the permanent deacon program for the Portland Archdiocese] doesn't see deacons as a way to make up for the dwindling number of priests, saying deacons would be needed even if the church had a sudden influx of new priests.

Still, no flood of priests is in sight.

Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese, said, "When I grew up in the '50s and '60s, there were multiple priests at every parish. Now there are multiple parishes for each priest. It's just a complete reversal of what it used to be. A deacon can do so many of the liturgical functions because they're a member of the clergy."

The article goes on to discuss the impact of reliance on a permanent married male diaconate on prospects for women priests.

On the pro-celibacy side, we have this gem from recent retrospective articles on the life of the late Jesuit priest and Congressman Robert Drinan:

Once asked how he got so much done in his life, Drinan is said to have responded, "The answer is simple: celibacy."

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